In the 1960s the W.K. Kellogg Foundation identified a need to support the development of agricultural and rural leaders. Through collaborations with Michigan State University, the conceptualization of the needs and requirements of such programs emerged and solidified. 

The philosophy was "to increase the participant's understanding of political, social and economic systems, to develop social skills, to be effective spokespeople for their industry or community, to expand individual networks, and to develop future political, civic and organisational leader". 

There were approximately 45 leadership programs developed in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and Australia, all sharing common attributes but delivered in their own style.

Lincoln University recognised that leadership would be a critical factor in the future performance of primary production in New Zealand and secured the rights to run the course in New Zealand under the Kellogg umbrella. The first course held in 1979, launched with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, USA.

The course was an immediate success and past Kellogg participants have demonstrated the positive benefits of the course through their leadership positions in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world today.

There are still 40 agriculture leadership programs operating all of whom are members of the International Association of Programs for Agriculture Leadership (IAPAL). Thirty-five of these are US State or regional programs, with programmes in Canada, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand - the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme. Nuffield International is also connected with the IAPAL.

This programme is the only one that still retains the Kellogg name that it was set up under.